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March 2012 comics sales estimates now online

Monday, April 9, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

UPDATED to reflect new information


Diamond Comic Distributors has released the full lists for March 2012, and as reported here last week, while March itself was against a five-week month and slightly off, it nonetheless contributed to the first time in the 21st century the direct market has ordered more than $100 million in the first quarter of the year. The Comics Chronicles estimates retailer orders of $33.7 million for the month; that brings the quarter to $101.9 million. (Click to see the charts for the month.)


Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 just barely topped 200,000 copies ordered, its numbers boosted by various special offers to retailers, about which more further down. It marks a return to the top of the charts for Marvel, after several months of DC leadership during its relaunch. The 300th place title was off by more a thousand copies; that benchmark is very sensitive to fifth weeks for obvious reasons, however, and it's worth noting that the figure is higher than the four-week months on either side of last March.

It was, as mentioned last week, the first month since 1994 that five publishers — Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and IDW — had dollar market shares higher than 5%. The percentage captured by the Top 20 publishers was the highest in years: just 1.55% of the items and 3.18% of the dollars were sold by publishers outside the Top 20. The list of the Top 300 Comics and the Top 300 Trade Paperback and Graphic Novels included only familiar names, which rarely happens.

There is, in fact, a disconnect this month when it comes to the Top 300 Trade Paperbacks and Graphic Novels. While the comparative sales statistics that Diamond released find graphic novel dollars off by 5.67%, the actual numbers behind the Top 300 show a different picture, up 25%, or more than $1 million, over the same grouping from last year. Now, occasionally strength in the top-sellers is offset by weakness below 300th place — but a 30-point gap requires more explanation.

Updated: I've confirmed with the distributor that the aggregate change figures are correct, and that what I considered to be the most likely explanation for the gap is probably also correct. The Top 300 list contains a large number of trade paperbacks discounted greater than the usual amount, and since Diamond's market shares and percentage-change figures are based on wholesale and not retail dollars, it becomes possible that the retail dollar value of trades stores ordered went up, while the amount of money they paid (the total wholesale dollars) went down. 

It is possible to sort the lists Diamond provides by wholesale dollars; the publisher provides a dollar ranking when it lists titles on its site. Looking at the Wholesale Dollar rankings reported by Diamond, we see evident discounting on a lot of Marvel items this month. The Secret Invasion trade paperback, ranked 32nd in unit orders and 7th in full retail dollars, is ranked by Diamond at 136th place in wholesale dollars. So even if we didn't know there was a sale – the numbers contain plenty of evidence of a sale!

The information is there — and from it, you can often ferret out what titles were discounted more heavily, as was done in the Secret Invasion example above. (But note that it is not necessarily the case that two titles with equal unit sales rankings and different dollar sales rankings mean that one of the books had a special discount. Different retailers order at different discounts, and what's paid for a given product varies from item to item by who's doing the ordering.)

There are often special discounts figured into sales of not just graphic novels, but comics themselves; as noted above, Marvel offered a significant promotional discount on Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 this month. Diamond includes these unit sales in its rankings, but, again, because of the wholesale/retail distinction, the publisher doesn't get the same amount of credit in dollar market shares that it would if the titles had been offered at the regular discount.

Promotionally-cover-priced comics do get trimmed off the lists at the Diamond level — nothing below $1 usually appears any more. But it's tough to say what should be done about regularly priced books retailers didn’t pay the usual rate for. The Comics Chronicles' interest is how many comics are in circulation, period, so it wouldn't be good to see the numbers of comics actually sold trimmed just for ranking purposes, as happened in the DC returnable situation. (Those unreturned DC copies do end up on the charts eventually — though we may only see them reflected in the aggregate totals until the end-of-year rankings.)

Separate dollar rankings used to be provided by Capital City Distribution in its trade magazine, but the lists were never referred to as much as the unit-sales lists. The reason goes back to the purpose of the lists to begin with in the 1980s: retailers wanted to know how titles sell relative to each other, unit-wise. I suspect today's internet readers still do. The feeling at Comichron is that the item-rankings horserace in 2012 isn’t going to matter as much to people looking at the site in 2022 — readers are just going to want to know how many copies of a given book were in circulation.

As always, every figure on Comichron is subject to change as more information comes in. The aggregate figures:

TOP 300 COMICS UNIT SALES
March 2012: 6.02 million copies
Versus 1 year ago this month: +1%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -14%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +18%
Versus 15 years ago this month: -30%
YEAR TO DATE: 17.89 million copies, +15% vs. 2011, -12% vs. 2007, +11% vs. 2002, -30% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS UNIT SALES
March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -2.45%
YEAR TO DATE: +14.74%

---

TOP 300 COMICS DOLLAR SALES
March 2011: $20.8 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +2%
Versus 5 years ago this month: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month: +48%
Versus 15 years ago this month: +4%
YEAR TO DATE: $61.6 million, +14% vs. 2011, -4% vs. 2007, +34% vs. 2002, +1% vs. 1997

ALL COMICS DOLLAR SALES
March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -1.18%
YEAR TO DATE: +15.85%

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TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2012: $6.44 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +25%
Versus 5 years ago this month, just the Top 100 vs. the Top 100: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month, just the Top 50 vs. the Top 50: -10%
YEAR TO DATE: $18.13 million, +22% vs. 2011

ALL TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -5.67%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.42%

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TOP 300 COMICS + TOP 300 TRADE PAPERBACK DOLLAR SALES
March 2012: $27.23 million
Versus 1 year ago this month: +7%
Versus 5 years ago this month, counting just the Top 100 TPBs: -7%
Versus 10 years ago this month, counting just the Top 25 TPBs: +39%
YEAR TO DATE: $79.73 million, +16% vs. 2011

ALL COMICS AND TRADE PAPERBACK  SALES
March 2012 versus one year ago this month: -2.61%
YEAR TO DATE: +13.42%

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OVERALL DIAMOND SALES (including all comics, trades, and magazines)
March 2012: approximately $33.72 million (subject to revision)
Versus 1 year ago this month: -6%
Versus 5 years ago this month: +1%
YEAR TO DATE: $101.81 million, +13% vs. 2010, +3% vs. 2007

One notable change is that the ten-year comparisons now extend out to the Top 50 trade paperbacks; Diamond moved to reporting the Top 50 in March 2002.

The average comic book in the Top 300 cost $3.48; the average comic book retailers ordered cost $3.46. The median and most common price for comics offered was $2.99.

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Dead Quarter no more: Best winter in comics in years

Thursday, April 5, 2012

by John Jackson Miller

Over the past two months, we haven't been able to make a very good comparison with 2011's comics sales. January was up against a month in 2011 in which many of Diamond Comic Distributors' products missed their shipping month because of the distributor's switch to Tuesday arrival dates; February was had an unusual five shipping weeks. But with March's sales, we finally have 13 weeks to compare — and while March itself was against a five-week month and slightly off, it nonetheless contributed to the first time in the 21st century the direct market has ordered more than $100 million in the first quarter of the year.


The Comics Chronicles initially estimates retailer orders of $33.7 million for the month; that brings the quarter to $101.9 million. (Click to see the preliminary charts for the month.)  Retailers ordered more than $12 million more in comic books and trade paperbacks than they did in the first quarter of 2011, and the figure even beats out the first quarters from the boomlet years mid-decade in the 2000s. (That is not adjusted for inflation —2007 or 2008 would probably beat out this quarter if it were. But comics prices have actually gone down since the first quarters of 2011 and 2010, so inflation becomes less relevant to the nearer-term comparisons.)

There is, again, an asterisk that will live as a curiosity in the records for all time. Diamond included Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 in the totals for March, even though it didn't go on sale until April. "Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 was shipped to retailers a week before its on-sale date and invoiced to retailers in March 2012 to facilitate pre-launch parties for the book. Diamond Comic Distributors' sales figures are factored on the books invoiced to retailers during the calendar month, not on the book's on-sale date." I can confirm that is exactly how it works. It certainly doesn't hurt the month to have it in there; I expect orders may approach 200,000 copies when the full figures are out next week. But even at that, it's a contribution of less than $1 million to the month. March would look slightly worse without it, but again, it fares well versus a five-week March from last year.

The top-selling graphic novel was a familiar name, Walking Dead Vol. 1. As often happens, when a prominent title is priced lower than the average for the category — the book costs $9.99 — it gave a boost to the unit sales for the category. Trade paperback and graphic novel units were the one category this March that outsold last March.

The comparatives for the month:


COMPARATIVE SALES STATISTICS

DOLLARS
UNITS
MARCH 2012 VS. FEBRUARY 2012
COMICS
-5.32%
-2.99%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-7.13%
9.54%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-5.89%
-2.07%
MARCH 2012 VS. MARCH 2011
COMICS
-1.18%
-2.45%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
-5.67%
2.93%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
-2.61%
-2.03%
FIRST QUARTER 2012 VS. FIRST QUARTER 2011
COMICS
15.85%
14.74%
GRAPHIC NOVELS
8.39%
7.25%
TOTAL COMICS/GN
13.42%
14.13%

Diamond did not compute a this-quarter versus last-quarter figure this time around; it would be a drop of about 11.6%. But the drop from Q4 2010 to Q1 2011 was nearly 16%, so that's a much softer slide into winter.

Here are the market shares:


TOP COMIC BOOK PUBLISHERS
PUBLISHER
DOLLAR
SHARE
UNIT
SHARE
MARVEL COMICS
36.21%
39.94%
DC COMICS
30.95%
36.09%
IMAGE COMICS
6.66%
5.59%
IDW PUBLISHING
5.74%
4.71%
DARK HORSE COMICS
5.24%
3.98%
DYNAMITE ENTERTAINMENT
2.90%
2.38%
BOOM! STUDIOS
1.42%
1.27%
AVATAR PRESS
1.15%
0.93%
ZENESCOPE ENTERTAINMENT
1.06%
0.98%
VIZ MEDIA
0.86%
0.38%
OTHER NON-TOP 10
7.81%
3.75%

Looking back, I believe that this month marks the first time in the Diamond Exclusive Era that there have been five publishers above the 5% mark in Dollar Market Share. CrossGen never topped 5%, and while publishers besides Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse have topped 5% before in recent years, we never had more than four publishers above 5% in any given month. To get back to months with five publishers over 5% we probably have to go back to 1994, when Valiant finished the year over 5%.

The full estimates will be along next week. In the meantime, be sure to follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook. The big historical update is coming, offering a great opportunity for you, the comics reader, to get involved!

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